In a Notre Dame baseball season that has included several unusual happenings in recent weeks, the whirlwind campaign continued-literally-on late Saturday night, as the third-seeded Irish waited out a lengthy tornado-induced weather delay before rallying from a 6-1 deficit to beat second seed Tulane, 10-6, in an NCAA Tournament Starvkille Regional elimination game at Dudy Noble Field.
Notre Dame (45-17) advances to Sunday’s championship day and must defeat top-seeded Mississippi State (40-17) twice to advance to next week’s super-regional round (the first ND-MSU game has been pushed back to a 2:00 p.m. central start). The win marks the first time since 1994 that Notre Dame has won two-plus games in the NCAAs.
Tulane was batting with a 5-0 lead in the bottom of the third inning when the game was halted, after an apparent tornado had touched down less than a mile away from the ballpark. Players, game staff and the 1,585 spectators were forced to run for cover as the quickly-arriving gusts blew debris around the stadium.
Play resumed after a delay that lasted two hours and 19 minutes, with the game ultimately ending at 12:55 a.m. (for an actual game time of 3:36). Had the game gone into extra innings, another lengthy delay would have been necessary-as a torrential downpour hit the area 20 minutes after the last pitch.
The Irish surged into the lead with a pair of four-run innings-in the seventh and eighth-while riding the gutsy pitching of senior righthander John Corbin (5-3), as the Irish closer logged the final five innings for his longest outing of the season and second-longest of his career. Tulane (38-22-1) plated three runs in the first and two more in the second but failed to hold off Notre Dame, which also rallied on Friday to post an 8-4 win over the Green Wave.
The Irish bats-which had combined for just four hits in ND’s first 13 innings of play on Saturday (including an 8-1 loss to MSU)-awakened after the delay, as No. 9 hitter Andrew Bushey and the first four batters in the lineup each totaled two hits in a 13-hit attack.
That group of clutch hitters included switch-hitting sophomore DH Matt Bok, who entered the game as a pinch hitter for classmate and leadoff batter Ken Meyer. Bok turned in the rare performance of collecting RBI from both sides of the plate in successive at-bats, with an RBI double while batting lefthanded in the seventh and a run-scoring single from the right side in the eighth.
Irish starter J.P. Gagne lasted just two innings, after yielding five runs on six hits and two walks (with one strikeout). His fellow freshman righthander Matt Laird then tossed two shutout innings? -spanning both sides of the delay-with one hit and one walk allowed.
Corbin’s 98-pitch outing (easily the longest of his career) included just one run allowed and 22 batters faced. He gave up three hits and three walks over the 4.2 innings and struck out two batters, including Nick Bourgeois on a 1-2 pitch to end the game.
Laird and Corbin extended a strong postseason showing by the Notre Dame bullpen, as the Irish relievers have allowed just five earned runs in 23.2 innings of postseason play (while the starters have given up 29 in 30.1).
The Irish pitching staff heads into Sunday’s action with just five rested arms remaining while Gagne, Laird and sophomore righthander Matt Buchmeier (who threw in relief vs. Tulane on Friday) all could make short appearances, as each of those hurlers has logged just 35-40 pitches in the tournament.
Junior righthander Danny Tamayo (2-1, 5.01 ERA) is slated to start Sunday’s first game while the other rested pitchers include junior lefty Mike Naumann, senior Tom O’Hagan, junior Mike Carlin and freshman Brandon Viloria.
Tulane junior righthander Dan O’Gara opened the game with four no-hit innings but appeared to tire near the end of his 117-pitch outing. O’Gara was responsible for five runs, six hits and six walks while posting seven strikeouts.
Bourgeois (1-2), a freshman lefthander, entered the game in the middle of the seventh-inning rally but served up a sacrifice fly to lefthanded-hitting Jeff Felker and an RBI double to Kris Billmaier. He went on to give up the decisive four runs in the eighth, with his one inning of work including four hits and one walk allowed. Senior righthander Brandon Belanger closed the game, yielding the final Irish run on three hits while posting four Ks.
Notre Dame 0-0-0 0-0-1 4-4-1 – 10 13 3
Tulane 3-2-0 0-0-1 0-0-0 – 6 10 1
Gagne, Laird (3), Corbin (5) and O’Toole. O’Gara, Bourgeois (7), Belanger (8) and Herz.
* Tulane jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the 1st, after Andy Cannizaro’s leadoff walk, Matt Groff’s first-pitch single through the left side and James Jurries’ 12th home run of the season (just the second HR hit by any player in the regional).
* The Wave added to their lead with two runs in the 2nd, sparked by James Burgess’ first-pitch double to left-center and Nick Herz’ RBI single past the diving 3B Bushey … Cannizaro then singled to a similar spot and a pair of fielders choices plated the fifth Tulane run.
* Laird worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the 4th-after a hit, walk and hit batter-as heavy-hitting cleanup batter Jake Gautreau grounded out to the 1B Jeff Felker (Gautreau launched his 16th HR of the season in Friday’s game vs. ND) … ND then left the bases loaded in the 5th, when Meyer hit a groundball to the second baseman.
* Corbin’s marathon outing included a jam in the 5th, after a pair of walks sandwiched around a disputed balk call … but Corbin struck out Burgess on a 1-2 pitch and Herz grounded out to SS Alec Porzel.
* ND finally plated a run in the 6th but could have produced a bigger inning … Porzel stroked a one-out, 1-2 single to right and stole second before taking third when the throw skipped past the bag … Felker delivered an RBI double into the left-center gap and Billmaier walked on four pitches … O’Gara then appeared to walk Brian Stavisky on four pitches as well but a strike was called, with Stavisky ultimately going down swinging (Matt Nussbaum then grounded out to end the rally).
* Tulane plated its final run in the 6th, thanks to Cannizaro’s leadoff, full-count single to center, Matt Groff’s groundout, a stolen base and Jurries’ flyout to right.
* Paul O’Toole ignited the Irish rally in the 7th with a full-count walk … two batters later, Bok surprised the shallow-playing CF Groff by drilling a one-out, 2-0 pitch into the left-center gap (O’Toole motored all the way around for the second ND run) … Stanley-amidst chants of “Rudy, Rudy” from the spirited and devoted MSU fans-then beat out a single that sent the SS Cannizaro far into the hole … Porzel’s 23rd double of the season plated another run (on an 0-1 blast to left-center), ending the night for O’Gara … Felker delivered on a full count vs. Bourgeois, plating Stanley with a flyout to left, and Billmaier capped the inning with an RBI double to left-center (with Groff looking away from the play as the pitch was delivered (he got a late jump before tracking down the ball to his left).
* Corbin kept the score at 6-5 in the bottom of the 7th, overcoming Nussbaum’s third error of the day at 2B and a sacrifice bunt by inducing a groundout from Bourgeois and a popup by Herz.
* Nussbaum walked on four pitches to open the decisive 8th but O’Toole popped up to the catcher on bunt attempt … the Irish then caught a break on Bushey’s swinging bunt, as the 1B Shirley shifted forward on the play-leaving the 1B bag vacated after Bourgeois had fielded the short chopper … the runners moved up on a wild pitch before Bok-now hitting from the right side-followed with a 1-0, run-scoring single to center … Stanley then plated the go-ahead run with a bunt single to the 2B Mickey McKee and Porzel greeted Belanger with a linedrive that was tracked down by the new CF John Kaplan … Felker capped the big inning with his 20th double of the season and 58th of his career, on a first-pitch, opposite-field blast to left-center.
* Corbin gave up a leadoff single to Cannizaro in the 8th and Nussbaum threw away an attempted double play (producing a runner on second with one out) … but Corbin served up a flyout and groundout to get out of the inning.
* ND capped the scoring in the 9th, with O’Toole stroking a full-count, two-out double that landed near the line in shallow LF before Bushey crushed a full-count double over Kaplan’s head in center.
ND HEAD COACH PAUL MAINIERI: “I think that break actually helped our kids kind of regroup and think about things. I think they came back after the break with a renewed determination that showed late in the game. … We’re glad to be playing. We’re going to go to tomorrow and do the best we can. We’re going to see who is available to pitch and then we’ll go from there.”
NOTES: The Irish now are 5-5 in NCAA Tournament “rematch games” (since 1957), with Saturday marking the first time that ND has defeated the same team twice in a regional … seven of ND’s last 13 wins have been come-from-behind victories, including all three in the postseason … ND has outscored its opponents 20-0 in the 8th inning in the postseason, including 5-0 in Friday’s win over Tulane … Felker’s two doubles give him 58 in his career, tying for 3rd all-time in ND history with former teammate and ’97 grad Mike Amrhein (just two behind Dan Peltier’s total from `87-’89 and three back of `93 grad Eric Danapilis) … six ND players had doubles in the game, pushing the team total to 126 (one shy of the team record set in `97) … ND improved to 28-4 this season when scoring six-plus runs … the 45 wins are most of the six-year Paul Mainieri era (the `96 team went 44-18) …Felker made his 218th career start, tying Mike Coss (`91) for 3rd in the ND record book and ranking 2nd among four-year players (J.J. Brock started 238 from `94-’98, Craig Counsell 233 from `89-’92) … Felker’s two hits pushed his career total to 242, 7th in ND history and one behind former classmate Brant Ust …Corbin moved past Alex Shilliday (`99) into 9th on the ND list for career appearances (66) … Stavisky’s 240 at-bats rank 4th in the ND record book, two back of Stanley’s freshman record and five behind Pat Pesavento’s `89 total (Peltier holds the record, with 259 in `89) … Porzel reached 80 hits for the season while Stanley leads the team with 82 … Porzel’s 23 doubles this season rank 4th in ND history, behind only Peltier’s 32 in `89, Danapilis’ 24 in `93 and Robbie Kent’s 24 in `94 … Felker’s 506 putouts this season rank 4th in the ND record book, 13 behind Craig DeSensi’s `95 total … Porzel’s 178 fielding assists rank 6th, eight behind Brock’s `98 total … the ND pitchers have totaled 452 Ks, trailing only the `99 (478) and `98 (456) staffs in the Irish record book … the ND defense has turned 53 double plays, ranking 3rd in team history behind the `98 (60) and `89 (58) squads.